Testing Completed in Chafee Building;
Results Expected Next Week
KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 3, 2000 -- The environmental firm hired to conduct a second round of testing on the Chafee Social Science Building, where elevated levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were found in sections of the interior of the building in late December, has completed a battery of tests and sent its samples to laboratories in New York and Massachusetts.
More than 100 samples, including 35 air samples, were taken to determine the extent of the presence of PCBs in the indoor environment, the source of the PCBs, and an initial assessment of the potential exposure risks to occupants.
The preliminary results, to be made available in a presentation to University officials on Monday, Jan. 8 , will also offer information on the extent of any cleanup work that may be required to remove PCB residues from the building. A complete written report and full analysis will be completed by Jan. 12.
The firm, Environmental Health and Engineering of Newton, MA , will discuss the testing process at a meeting to be held on Friday, January 5 at 1 p.m. in the Galanti Lounge of the URI Library. All interested parties are welcome to attend and observe the presentation.
University officials have updated the Rhode Island Department of Health with each development in the process and consulted directly with John D. Spengler, a professor of environmental science and engineering, director of the environmental science program at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a principal with the firm conducting the Chafee testing, Environmental Health and Engineering (EH&E).
An advisory committee has been established, which includes faculty and staff from Chafee, several scientists with expertise in air quality control issues, and representatives from Health Services, the Counseling Center, the College of Nursing, and academic affairs.
"The first meeting of the advisory committee was set up prior to the testing so that members would have an opportunity to speak with representatives of EH&E," said J. Vernon Wyman, URI assistant vice president for business services. "Some of their input influenced the sampling that was ultimately taken in the building. For instance, the firm took a suggestion made by a member of the advisory committee to test dust inside the computers," he added.
A listserve has been established to provide a forum for questions to be asked and answered and to keep occupants of the building and others informed of the status of the testing and building.
"The building will remain closed until we receive all the findings," said Wyman. "We will not re-open the building until we have resolved this issue," he said. "Depending on the findings from the new tests, and with the advise of the R.I. Department of Health, we will consider limited access to the building for faculty and staff to secure personal and professional belongings," added Wyman.
Access would be provided again with escorts, and a cleaning station would be set up with trained personnel to wipe down and vacuum materials brought out of the building. Since the supervised access on December 26, 27, and 28, Wyman has not received any requests from faculty or staff to re-enter Chafee. Students are currently on winter break and the spring semester begins Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2001.
University officials have begun developing a contingency plan for the reassignment of classes if URI is unable to reopen Chafee prior to the start of the Spring semester. As part of the plan, Ballentine Hall, the home of the College of Business Administration, could be used for classroom and office space. Business college faculty and staff have been relocated to a new 14,400 square-foot building at 210 Flagg Road designed for their use while Ballentine Hall undergoes major renovations.
If needed, contingency plans will be disseminated to faculty, staff and students prior to the start of the Spring semester.
An informational meeting was held last Tuesday, December 26, with about 100 faculty and staff to work out the logistics of relocation, mail retrieval, and phone message retrieval. Winifred Brownell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is the contact person for any information regarding relocation. She can be reached at 874-4101 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two additional meetings were held last week with representatives from EH&E , University officials, and members of the Chafee advisory committee.
The University is also developing a central point of contact for individuals with inquiries or medical-related questions. In the meantime, questions can be directed to the URI Department of Communications/News Bureau at (401) 874-2116 for referral to appropriate personnel. The Rhode Island Department of Health is also a useful source of information about medical related questions.
The first round of testing, which showed elevated levels of PCBs in several locations indoors and in outside soil, was commissioned by the University and conducted in July, August, November and December 2000 by an external consulting firm, Rhode Island Analytical Laboratories Inc. of Warwick. Testing included water, air and materials in the building, soil samples, and control samples on campus. The results of the soils and interior tests were delivered to the University on December 18 . All other tests were within safe limits.
Wyman immediately contacted the Harvard School of Public Health for a consultation on the findings from Spengler, a renowned expert on indoor air quality. Spengler's office referred Wyman to Environmental Health and Engineering of Newton, MA. A representative from the company, one of the top environmental testing firms in the country, was brought to campus on December 21 to tour the building and review the findings.
Senior URI administrators were notified on December 21 of the findings and a decision was made on December 22 to close the building. The University then notified the R.I. Department of Health, which concurred and commended the University for its initiatives.
Approximately 175 faculty and staff work in Chafee, which houses the offices of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the departments of sociology and anthropology, psychology, philosophy, education, economics, journalism, and the Psychological Consultation Center, the Instructional Technology and Media Services office, the Instructional Development Program, four lecture halls, classrooms, research rooms and computer labs.
For Information: Linda A. Acciardo (401) 874-2116,
Vern Wyman, (401) 874-5478.